Special exhibition: Ludwig Meidner

Ludwig Meidner - Early Works

Ludwig Meidner, 1904
Ludwig Meidner during his time at the Breslau academy, 1904
© Ludwig Meidner-Archiv, Jüdisches Museum der Stadt Frankfurt am Main
Special exhibition: Ludwig Meidner

Ludwig Meidner - Early Works

At first, one rushes, pell-mell and distraught, along innumerable byways toward that dazzling goal.

Ludwig Meidner, Mein Leben, in: Lothar Brieger: Ludwig Meidner, Leipzig 1919

"… my parents did not allow me to satisfy my longing, and we argued fiercely. Finally, in 1903, I enrolled at the Breslau Art Academy. For two years there I had to draw pots, skulls and stuffed birds with a degree of pedantry that brought sweat to my brow. It was torture. I […] became an impressionist on my own initiative. At the time this was still something tremendously revolutionary, and I mastered and relished this new approach in double-quick time. In 1905 I moved with very little money to Berlin, where I became an illustrator for fashion magazines and soon began painting the froth and flicker of the lamplight in my small, draughty room. A year later the generosity of a relative took me to Paris. At first I was speechless and looked around me with wide-eyed confusion – then I threw myself like a heathen beserker into the delirium of life and art. I incessantly painted subtly shaded impressions on the butte Montmartre, the most profound and serene experience I had ever had [...] but the summer of 1907 brought me back to Berlin, where a horrible blind alley opened up before me and I was strangled and lamed for five years by unprecedented material and spiritual impoverishment."

Meidner’s early artistic development exhibits many features typical of artists of his generation: parental resistance to art as a profession, rebellion against academicism, time spent in Paris, and finally the stylization of the young painter as starveling are elements found in many biographies of German artists of the time. Even though Meidner's autobiographical sketch is in keeping with the facts, it is also illuminating in terms his habitus and self-presentation as an artist. Meidner certainly cannot be accused of "historical distortion" in his – very many – autobiographical texts. However, it needs to be born in mind that his conception of the artist, modeled on Vincent van Gogh, was profoundly shaped by the notion of an unflinching creativity founded on inner experience and the crisis-laden character of artistic existence.

Further reading:
Horcher in die Zeit. Ludwig Meidner im Exil (exhibition catalog Museum Giersch der Goethe-Universität, Frankfurt am Main), München 2016.
Presler, Gerd/Riedel, Erik, Ludwig Meidner. Werkverzeichnis der Skizzenbücher / Catalogue Raisonné of His Sketchbooks, München 2013.
Heuberger, Georg (Hg.), Ludwig und Else Meidner (exhibition catalog Jüdisches Museum Frankfurt, Ben Uri Gallery, London), Frankfurt a. M. 2002.
Gerda Breuer and Ines Wagemann: Ludwig Meidner. Zeichner, Maler, Literat. 1884-1966. 2 Bde. (exhibition catalog Mathildenhöhe Darmstadt), Stuttgart 1991.
Thomas Grochowiak: Ludwig Meidner, Recklinghausen 1966.